woman lifting light weights with short pants

How to properly work your buttocks

One of the most popular requests from girls to a fitness instructor is how to pump up the buttocks. Before creating a training program, we will familiarize ourselves with the structure of these muscles.

Buttocks consist of three main parts:

● The largest in the whole body is the Gluteus Maximus muscle. It stabilizes the body when walking and running, allows you to take your foot outward, and is also responsible for the taut (or not so) shape of the glutes.

● The Gluteus Medius is partially overlapped by the Maximus, located in the upper part of the pelvis. She is involved in the abduction of the legs to the side, lateral inclinations and stabilization of the body during movement.

● Finally, the Gluteus Minimus muscle lies beneath the middle. Together they are responsible for the abduction of the legs and stabilization of the body, and also form the line of the thigh.

Pumping your buttocks in a month might be possible in a gym, but is practically impossible at home. At best, muscle tone will increase slightly.

To significantly change their shape you will need the help of strength training several times a week.

The basic principles of training the buttocks

Due to the peculiarities of female physiology, the lower body of girls is much more responsive to training than other muscle groups. But you can achieve the desired effect only if you have basic knowledge on how to pump your buttocks correctly.

● You can only feel the result of training on the glutes only if the load is right. To pump your buttocks correctly, first, you need to put yourself under the guidance of a personal trainer.

● If you want slightly rounded and toned buttocks you must be careful with basic strength exercises. They work on the active growth of muscle mass.

● The load for muscle growth should progress. Regularly try new exercises for the buttocks, increase the number of repetitions and working weights so that you do not get used to training stress.

● It is very important to maintain proper nutrition and rest between workouts. If you decide to pump up your buttocks, at least give up simple carbohydrates, which are easily stored in the form of fat on the glutes and hips. Switch to fractional nutrition: give preference to protein foods and vegetables (if you plan to gain weight, then the calorie intake increases).

● A full sleep of at least 8 hours and a break between days of intense training to restore strength are also important.

Exercise recommendations

The set of exercises will differ depending on the purpose of the training.

If you want to improve your shape, gently tighten your buttocks, complex programs combining cardio and strength exercises are best suited:

▪ to perform aerobic exercises, use classic cardio equipment, walking, stepping onto the platform

▪ for anaerobic exercises, it may include hyperextension, leg presses, and weight-lifting exercises: lunges and squats with a barbell, for example.

The combination of two types of loads will reduce the volume of the body and give a beautiful shape to the buttocks, but will not allow them to increase significantly.

To pump your buttocks at an advanced level, reduce aerobic exercise. A light run as a warm-up will not hurt, but long cardio will tire and will not allow you to concentrate on strength exercises. Using weights, step platforms, and your own body weight, you can work out the muscles most carefully.

A set of dynamic strength exercises will put in order not only the glutes but also vital stabilizer muscles. Your figure will tighten and your back will become even and stronger.

Examples of strength exercises for the buttocks

We will look at some of the most popular exercises for the buttocks and we’ll take a look at various researches that can give us some great tips on how to optimize our glutes training.

An average of 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions will be performed with the same weight until you feel a slight burning sensation in the muscles. The rest time between sets should be of 1.5 to 2 minutes.

1. Split squats and lunges

One of the best exercises to develop a great buttock is split squats. Especially with the back foot raised on a bench so that you can get deep down, and the front foot far forward. This exercise will work your buttocks and inner thighs so hard that you will have difficulty recovering from the exercise before the next workout.

If we look at the research on split squats, this study, where 18 young women were trained to do split squats with the rear foot raised while measuring muscle activity in the glutes and hamstring muscles.

The measurements showed that the gluteus max was activated more than the hamstring muscles in all 3 exercises. In the squat, an activation of 40.3% of glutes was seen while activation of the hamstring was only 24.4%. In split squats, activation was 65.6% vs. 40.1%, and in the stiff-leg deadlift, the activation rate was 40.5% for glutes, but only 29.9% for the hamstring.

Split squats also activated the hamstring significantly more than stiff-leg deadlift, and stiff-leg deadlifts significantly activated the hamstring more than squat. Glutes were also activated significantly more in split squats than in stiff-leg deadlift and squat, while there was no major difference in glutes activation between the stiff-leg deadlift and squat.

This study found also a greater activation of the buttock muscle that sits out on the side of the hip, gluteus medius, when participants perform split squat, rather than the traditional squat. This is probably due to the fact that the gluteus medius acts as a stabilizer of the hip, and of course, there will be greater requirements for stabilization when standing in step rather than in general squats.

The best way for the glutes exercise, therefore, appears to be rear the foot-elevated split squats, which have a high degree of both gluteus med, gluteus max, and hamstring activation.

Another popular exercise is the lunge. In a study by Riemann et al. from 2012, it was found that the heavier one was riding in the lunges, the more it became glutes and hamstring exercise, and less a thigh/quadriceps exercise. It was found that the requirements for hamstrings and glutes increase as the weight increases, while the requirements for quads remain largely the same.

woman with round booty wearing blue sweat pants

2. Cable kickbacks

If I have to come up with a good tip for cable kickbacks, then we can start with a study from May 2019 which showed that if you have to drive cable kickbacks, where you stand slightly bent forward and carry a stretched leg backward, then it gives more to the muscles on the inside of the thigh if you move the leg slightly obliquely behind the opposite leg (rear + 10 g adduction), while it gives the most to the glutes, if you move the leg obliquely backward, away from the opposite leg (rear + 30 (abduction)).

In fact, the muscle activation in the glutes was 30% higher when the leg was tilted backward, compared to when it was just brought straight back. The same degree of extra activation was seen in the adductors on the inside of the thigh as the leg was tilted inward.

3. Hip thrust

Hip thrust has become an incredibly popular glutes exercise, and for a good reason.

It is probably the closest we get to an isolation exercise where you can get unlikely weight on the glutes.

But how effective is hip thrust really, compared to other exercises, and how do you work your hip thrust most effectively? This has been investigated in a number of different studies.

This study, for example, tested muscle activity in four different hip thrust variants:

  1. Traditional barbell hip thrust
  2. Pull hip thrust, it was a regular hip thrust with the addition that the participants were asked to imagine that they were pulling their heels up towards the balls while doing the exercise.
  3. Rotation hip thrust, it was a hip thrust with the addition of participants being asked to set their feet slightly wider than usual, and focus on imagining the feet rotating outward.
  4. Feet-away hip thrust. Like ordinary hip thrust, with the difference that the feet have moved a foot wider away from the back than usual.

The study showed that both glute max and glute med were activated most clearly by rotation hip thrust, while the hocks were activated most by feet-away hip thrust. In fact, muscle activity in glute max was observed to reach 90% of max during rotation hip thrust, despite the relatively low weight used in the study (40% of 1RM).

3.1 Rotation hip thrust

Rotation hip thrust thus appears to be a more effective exercise than traditional hip thrust if you want to maximize activity in your glutes, while the back thighs get more firm if you move your feet slightly away from the back.

You can see the full results of the study here.

In another study, it was examined which of the following 3 exercises activated the hindquarters most effectively: Barbell deadlift, hip thrust or hex bar deadlift. Hip thrust was found to be the most effective exercise, especially at the top of the movement where the hip is fully stretched. Deadlift, on the other hand, was most effective in hitting the muscles of the thigh.

In this study, it was tested if glutes were activated most in hip thrust or in a squat. They used weights that were so heavy that the participants could take approx. 10 reps. Here, the hip thrust was found to be more effective than squat versus muscle activation in both the upper glutes (69.5% vs. 29.4% activation) and the lower (86.8% vs. 45.4%).

4. Squat

Personally, I’ve never really had any exercises in my programs where the primary purpose has been to train the glutes. Glutes have always been trained through exercises where I actually thought of other muscles like the ones I mainly wanted to train: squat (quads), deadlift (back) and stiff leg lift (hamstring).

The squat is probably the main responsible for most women perfectly built glutes, but how do you really exercise your squats?

A study by Caterisano, showed greater muscle activation at deeper squats than with partial squats. Specifically, an activation of glutes of 16.92% was found for partial squats, 28% for squat to parallel, and 35% for squats under parallel.

Something similar was seen in Bryanton 2012. Here, it was found that the deeper the squat gets (90-105 grams of knee flexion vs. 30-60 grams), the greater the requirements for both quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The study also showed that squat to parallel (90 °), increases the requirements for hamstrings and glutes as the weight increases, while the requirements for quads remain largely the same. So we see the same picture as with lunges: The heavier the squat, the more it becomes glutes and hamstring exercise, and the less it becomes a quad exercise.

In another study by Marchetti, it was found that the greatest activation of glutes by parallel, and so did this study.

If you want to use squat as a buttocks builder, then you probably need to go down around parallel to get the greatest effect.

Work out the inside of the thigh

If we are to include the inner thigh in our workout, then the absolute biggest muscle here is the Adductor Magnus. It acts primarily as an inward guide of the leg, and in addition, it can also rotate the thigh. The lower part of the muscle, which attaches to the bottom of the knee, can also lead the leg slightly backward, but it is not a function of the Adductor Magnus, which is usually of no particular focus when we talk about training the inner thighs.

Here, the thighs are most often used as an exercise, eg. the adductor or the adduction in a cable rack.

In a study, the muscle activity of the Adductor Magnus was measured in 12 participants in 8 different movements: hip flexion/extension, back hip flexion/extension, internal/external rotation of the thigh, abduction, and abduction the thigh with 0 °, 45 ° and 90 ° bend in the hip.

The results showed that both the upper and lower part of the Adductor Magnus was clearly most activated when the leg was pushed back (100% activation), while the activation rate was only about 38% (lower part) and 59% (upper part) during the insertion of the thighs. Even worse, it became inward when the hip was bent 90 ° (as it is, for example, when sitting in an adductor machine). Here, muscle activation was down to around 15%.

woman with round booty

Myths about toning the buttocks

1. You can’t burn out

First of all, the idea that you can isolate a very specific part of the buttocks and tone this area is rubbish.

Many people believe that the area they train is also where they burn fat. But even if you make hundreds of stomach crunches and mobilize more fat from that area during exercise, it’s not the same as losing weight in the long term (source).

It is like cardio, where you probably burn more fat during exercise. Acute fat-burning is not equal to fat loss in the long run.

Just take this study where the subjects made 960-1200 repetitions in leg press training, and yet they had not lost fat from the legs, but rather the upper body, at the end of the training program.

So where you lose weight first is genetically determined. And to lose weight you have to be in an energy deficit.

This can be achieved by reducing one’s calorie intake from the diet, but it is also a good idea to exercise alongside and increase one’s calorie consumption through physical activity.

And if you want to burn calories from your workout, then you will not get much out of doing a lot of leg kick with body weight. It is true that you may be able to feel the burn, but it is not the calorie that is burning when you do small isolation exercises.

Then you are better off doing larger lower body exercises, such as variants of the squat, deadlift and hip thrusts that involve a lot of other muscle groups besides the buttocks.

2. Many repetitions do not produce “toned” muscles

What does it mean to tone?

Many people talk about wanting tone buttocks, without fully knowing what “toning” really means.

Toning really means just reducing the fat percentage while increasing muscle mass. Many people, with this goal in mind, are hugely fixated on losing weight fast with a lot of cardio rather than prioritizing strength training.

Another mistake is that people make way to many repetitions, often because they think this produces slim toned muscles, where few repetitions produce large, thick buffalo muscles. But that is simply wrong.

A muscle is just a piece of meat, and you gradually build muscle if you expose the muscles to a stimulating load, and that is exactly what you want if you want to tone. You just don’t get big and muscular overnight.

But not all training is equally effective

It is a myth that you have to perform between 6-15 repetitions for effective muscle building, for lighter weights can also build muscle mass. But the lighter weights you use, the closer you have to train for muscular fatigue in order for these kits to actually be effective.

That is to say that if you choose to make sets of 30-40 repetitions, for example, you will probably have to push yourself until you cannot make more repetitions (or close), to get the same yield as if you are doing heavier strength training.

It’s just tremendously more uncomfortable to have to do 40 repetitions than it is to do 8. Imagine having to do 30-40 reps in the deadlift, set by set. That would be horrible.

Not to mention much more time-consuming.

So, as such, there is nothing wrong with doing a lot of repetitions, you just should not think that you build muscle in a more “toned” way. And then you have to be prepared to push yourself very hard.

3. Many “booty” exercises are miserable

The problem with many of the booty exercises is that you hardly apply any load. If you just stand back and do leg squats or regular squats with bodyweight, then there are unlikely to be many repetitions before the workout becomes just about effective, in terms of building muscle mass. In addition, it becomes difficult to make significant progression in weight or volume, which is crucial for continued progress.

And then the underlying premise that one has to train the buttocks with fancy gadgets and gimmicks (like booty elastic bands), or in super cumbersome setups, is completely wrong.

The buttocks (gluteus maximus) is the body’s largest muscle group, and its primary function is relatively simple, to stretch the hip. It is not a small muscle group that is very difficult to activate. If you stretch your hip with proper load and fine technique, the buttocks should probably help to pull the tow.

You can work out in different variants of squats, deadlift, hip thrusts or back raises.

And these are the ones that should make up the bulk of effective glutes training, not the little fancy exercises from Instagram (they can, of course, be used as a minor supplement).

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